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Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Could Pee on This

Don’t shout at me: it’s the title of a book! More specifically, I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats, by Franceso Marciuliano. Make a note: you may want to give copies to cat-loving friends as gifts!  

While it’s not great literature, this little book is full of charm, from Marciuliano’s humor to some great cat photos to the poems themselves. Of the poems the author says in his introduction, “…by the time you ‘ve finished reading this poetry anthology, you’ll not only completely understand everything your cat thinks and does but even applaud him for it. Maybe give him a medal. Or throw him a parade in your hallway, making sure to avoid staircases so all the tiny floats don’t tumble down. Or you can just sit your cat down, look him straight in the eyes and say, “I get it. I really do get it…..furry face.” 

You see, it’s all about catitude. The title poem says it all: 

                                             I COULD PEE ON THIS
                              Her new sweater doesn’t smell of me
                              I could pee on that
                              She’s gone out for the day and
                                    left her laptop on the counter
                              I could pee on that
                              Her new boyfriend just pushed
                                    my head away
                              I could pee on him
                              She’s ignoring me ignoring her
                              I could pee everywhere
                              She’s making up for it
                                   by putting me on her lap
                              I could pee on this
                              I could pee on this 

Notice that the cat only contemplates the threat, but that the threat is preeminent cat philosophy.  

Our cat, Fiona, approves this message. You can see her fur alongside the book photo, where she insisted on pressing herself against the scanner to watch the light move (next best thing to watching the printer, which is second only to watching the DVD changer slide in and out on the TV – her favorite pastime). 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Collecting Interests Change With the Times

Recently I have had several discussions with various antiques, ephemera, and book dealers about changes in collecting interests. Antiques dealers cite the loss of interest in Victoriana, carnival glass, pressed glass, china, and many of the 1970s-80s “collectibles” that were issued for “collectors.” Booksellers note flagging interest in Western Americana, reference books that have been digitized online, and a slump in the collectible children’s books market. The last generation’s nostalgia moves along with the generations. It’s a constant trend, and a sharp seller will not only note what is coming on, but will try to see what will be sought after in future. 

As a dealer in ephemera – including  postcards  -- I have, over the years, seen many changes in collecting interests involving  these little pasteboard artifacts. 40 years ago there was an earnest group of collectors seeking Pioneers (the earliest postal cards), “Gruss  Aus” (greetings from) as well as late 19th and early 20th Century artist-signed illustrated cards and cards on specific topics and holidays. Christmas, New Year, and scarcer holiday cards such as July 4th, President birthdays, Labor Day,  Groundhog Day, and Halloween were popular. In the 1940s, linen cards appeared and until the 1980s or so these were pretty much despised. The 1950s saw chrome (color cards with shiny surfaces) replace linen, and these are still mostly shunned.

There was little interest, coming into the 1970s era, in Easter or Thanksgiving cards although some of the best-collected illustrators designed many of them.  I had a personal interest in cards depicting poultry, and I bought a considerable number of Easter and Thanksgiving cards during the time when they were sold for 25 cents, or five for a dollar, or some few special ones were even a dollar or so. I favored cards with chickens and other barnyard fowl, which led to rabbits and hares and other offshoots, such as anthropomorphic versions of the same subjects – animals dressed in human clothing, playing human games, driving vehicles such as autos and trains. Another sidebar was animals pulling carts. (These were for my personal collection, which I still retain.) Beware that collecting postcards can lead to expanded interests! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Many Fish in the Ocean?

40 years ago I was deeply involved in environmental action programs. In fact, my then-spouse was a student at the University or Oregon in the Honors program, part of which included an optional program called “Search.” Each student in Search prepared his or her own topic and, with the supervision of a faculty advisor, outlined a curriculum or project to satisfy academic requirements.

So was born a class titled “Can Man Survive?” Since the catalog for the term had already been issued, my husband (Zed) and his advisor (John) and I sat around our dining room table and made paper signs by hand. We hung these all over campus (an environmental irony I suppose) and planned for 30 students.

We were not far into registration day when one of the registrars called and said that the class had been filled – could it be enlarged? I checked and the answer was, “sure.” So larger room was assigned (150 capacity) but in a couple of hours there was another call. At that point the decision was, “leave it open.” Larger and larger rooms were assigned, until finally the only option was the basketball court. 4200 students signed up, and since the townfolk were also invited, 6300 people attended the first class. It made the Wall Street journal and CBS news.

For some people, it was the first time the word “ecology” entered their vocabulary. The idea of the class was for people to form “action groups” on a matter they felt strongly about, and to devise some methods for dealing with problems. Some opted merely to do research and write reports. Others dove into projects such as cleaning up our local rivers, saving a piece of virgin old growth forest from logging, creating a food co-op and a low-income medical clinic, and many others. Leading experts in various fields from education to environmental issues came to speak. A great deal more happened but my purpose in relating all this is that when we spoke of the loss of family farms, the environmental impact on food supplies from changing climate, drugs in feed, pesticides in produce, and the need to take action - many people blithely replied, “oh, whatever happens the scientists will fix it,” and “there will always be fish in the ocean.” As you know, neither has come to pass. Only now – 40 years later – are some of these issues being taken seriously. And clearly the fish have declined disastrously. When I was a child halibut was one of the cheapest foods you could buy. The last time I looked at it in the market, it was $22.99 a pound.

So it’s interesting that I have in hand a book that was withdrawn from the Smithsonian library, titled “Report on the Construction and Outfit of the United States Fish Commission Steamer Albatross. The first sentence of this book reads, “The alleged decrease of the food-fishes along the sea-coasts and in the lakes of the United States induced the passage by Congress, in 1871, an act authorizing the appointment ….”

 I didn’t make a typo there. That date really is 1871. The book was published c. 1885. (The book appears to be missing a title page, and the few online listings indicate 1884 and 1885, while the only WorldCat listings are for 1885.) It deals with the construction, outfitting, and voyage of a specially-built steamship for the purpose of studying the fish populations, with many wonderful fold-out plates.

But the book itself raises some questions... It has been recased in a library binding with Smithsonian endpapers and paste-downs, so at least they did this part of the repairs. My curiosity resides with some additional repairs, which seem very amateurish. So I’m wondering whether the Smithsonian could have been so fumble-handed as to perpetrate these atrocities and what the materials used might be. I know for a fact that this book was purchased directly from the Smithsonian when they were deacquisitioning, so perhaps they acquired the book already well used (which seems rather strange) and these repairs were done prior to their ownership.

The folding frontis is reinforced on the back with some kind of laminated or glued plasticky stuff (like cellophane tape, only it apparently came in a sheet.) There is strip of similar material down the front of the fold. Some of that has come loose and it obviously has discolored the paper badly. (The “half-title,” page, which is more like a subtitle or section title, has a reinforcing tape strip on the fore edge, but it appears to be more recent, and different. More like Magic Mending tape, and although yellowed, it seems not to have discolored the paper in the same way as the other stuff.) Man, somebody has really gummed up this rather valuable book!

However, the real question is: does anyone recognize this laminate type material? It doesn’t seem possible that it could be removed without further damage to the already fragile paper, nor could the effects of the adhesive stain be reversed. So I guess I’m just curious as to whether this is something that the Smithsonian would have done, and what this odd material might be.

(Inquiries welcome about purchase of this volume, if anyone is interested.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

More on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I have just finished reading another of Alexander McCall Smith’s charming novels about Mma Ramotswe and her detective agency, the one and only in Gaborone, Botswana. I keep wondering why I continue to feel refreshed after reading one of them. The stories are sweet and compelling, although not riveting. The characters have grown through the course of the novels, each with his or her quirks and motivations, until I feel as though I know them fairly well. (Actually, McCall does little in the way of description – a few character tags, and you fill in the rest for yourself.)

Precious Ramotswe has some weight, a condition she refers to as “traditionally built.” In fact, the title of this recently-read book is “Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.” (I am not reading these in sequence, but as they come along.)

But I come away from one of them feeling warm, relaxed, happy, and somehow elevated in my perceptions of human behavior. More forgiving, perhaps. More capable of allowing for human differences. And just as I was trying to figure out the exact reasons for this, I came across this passage, in which Mma Ramotswe’s recently-wed husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni (the is how they address each other, in fact) reflects on his feeling for his wife:

“He looked away. He was not one for displays of emotion; he never had been, but it made his heart swell to be thanked by this woman who stood for so much in his eyes; who stood for kindness and generosity and understanding; for a country of which he was so proud; who stood for Africa and all the love that Africa contained.”

And that about says it. Precious worries at the loss of old traditions of respect, kindness, generosity, etc. as the newer generation adopts more selfish and unthinking ways, even as she upholds those traditions herself. She loves Africa in a way that I can understand in my heart, as common to those of us who feel our roots in a place run deep.

It is not a love that blinds: she knows the failings and failures of her beloved country. “”We were tiny creatures, really;” she thinks, “tiny and afraid, trying to hold our place on the little platform that was our earth. So while the world about us might seem so solid, so permanent, it was not really. We were all at the mercy of chance, no matter how confident we felt, hostages to our own human frailty. And that applied not only to people, but to countries too. Things could go wrong and entire nations could be led into a world of living nightmare; it had happened, and was happening still. Poor Africa, which could stand for love and happiness and joy, could also be a place of suffering and shame. But that suffering was not the only story, thought Mma Ramotswe. There was a story of courage and determination and goodness that could be told as well, and she was proud that her country, her Botswana, had been part of that.”

(Smith may, incidentally, be single-handedly responsible for reviving the semi-colon in literature.)

So in those quotations lie the answer to my questions. Deeply probing philosophy gently robed in kindness.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Did I Love It? Did I Hate it? I haven’t decided….

John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure sports a subtle cover, a picture of peaches and grapes on a while tablecloth, with a very small script “A Novel” located at the base of a peach. In other words, if you don’t pay attention, you might miss the fact that it’s fiction.

While you would no doubt realize that it’s fiction before reading too far, the beginning is deceptive enough that you might feel that you are reading a food commentary akin to the writings of Brillat-Savarin, potentially because the author compares his book to that gourmand reporter. There is a lot about food and food history, and even some recipes, but all of the food related material is rather incidental and misleading except as it reveals a good deal about the narrator, and is used to introduce some of the characters.

You have to watch for clues in the text to discover what you are really reading, which is something of a murder mystery. I don’t think I have ever read a sneakier book in terms of not announcing its genre. There are some other unusual twists, which I dare not describe for fear of being a “spoiler.”

Aside from a devious plot and a lot of foodie stuff, this book contains a good deal of wit, sarcasm, hauteur, snideness and humor. Most remarkable is the author’s construction of sentences and paragraphs. The latter can run to two or more pages, the former – well, these are some of the longest and most compound-complex constructions I have seen since I was married to a man who couldn’t be bothered with punctuation. However, Lanchester produces sentences that a true masterpieces: they amble along through myriad subjects, related but often not in obvious ways, full of allusions, similes, and metaphors, with often something wrenchingly funny in their midst. Quoting one would be appropriate here, but frankly my patience and fingers are just not up to it.

I admit that I found the author exhibiting a high degree of intelligence, no small amount of gustatorial expertise, a wry and sometimes almost cruel sense of humor, and confident in his deceptiveness. As you read, you think you know what the subject is, but find that you have been tricked. You believe that you have built an accurate picture of characters and motivations, only to have that image fracture into shards. Your own expectations about the characters will lead to disappointment. Any attempt to guess at the ending is doomed to failure. Any expectation of a typical resolution or climax will be disappointed. You may feel guilty if you experience delight or pleasure in this book by the time you reach the end.

Or you may just wind up wondering if you loved it, or hated it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Another Wonderful Book Fair

Once again, I rushed to prepare for the Rose City Book Fair in Portland (OR) May 18-19. I didn’t mean to rush – I had planned to have plenty of time. But then we had unexpected visitors, more visitors, and some more visitors. Which was lovely, since some were family and some were colleagues who bought some inventory. None-the-less, the preparation time evaporated. Fortunately, I have a lot of inventory permanently set up and ready to go – postcards, photos, maps, and ephemera. Although I had planned to sort, repackage, and index the ephemera before the show, that just didn’t get done. In time it will be.

My booth before the show opened.

In any case, the show – as usual – was well organized and very accommodating and friendly. None better. It is put on by the Portland Area Used Book Sellers Assn. and was started to give area booksellers a venue some years after the old Oregon Antiquarian Book Fair died. This year the Rose City show moved to a new venue – pleasingly, the site used for the old Antiquarian book fair. (The Doubletree Hotel, Lloyd Center, Portland Oregon.) Shades of the past, good memories of bygone days (and of some of the book dealers who have gone on to the Great Library in the sky). There is plenty of room for this show to grow, if only enough dealers remain enthusiastic about supporting it.

Portland as viewed from the hotel roof.

This year there were dealers from four states, and some very interesting material on display. Not to mention many with bargain books. Robert Gavorra was right inside the front door with a table proclaiming “no book over $10” and he meant it. Which actually reassured newcomers and walk-ins that this was not a stuffy environment where they couldn’t afford to enter. The show’s motto is “An unpretentious book fair.” The whole idea is to make the show affordable for dealers. There are tables for rent but dealers provide their own table covers, lights if they want them, and so forth. There are no curtains around the booths, which leaves the area light, uncluttered, and with good line of sight. (I much prefer this to all of those tedious little cloth caves that some shows provide.) On the other hand, for dealers the club provides bagels, donuts, and the like in the mornings, and sandwiches, chips, and beverages mid-day on Saturday, when some may not be able to get away from their booths to eat lunch.

Entry fees are also reasonable. $2, or a can of food and $1. The food, and half the gate receipts, go to the Oregon Food Bank. The club also left free passes on the hotel check-in counter and provides them to dealers ahead of time for distribution.

We threw the stuff into the van on Thursday morning –the sun shining agreeably (not a big deal for some, but this is Oregon). Unloaded and set up Thursday evening. Had a convivial “happy hour” in the hotel lounge with some colleagues. The show didn’t open to the public until 2 p.m. Friday (and ran until 8 p.m.) but the doors opened for dealers at 9 a.m., giving us a chance to scope (and scoop) each others’ goods. And the sun was shining. The 8 pm closing sent us to the lounge again, where the supper fare was just excellent. (The hotel restaurant was open only for breakfast and lunch, also excellent and our waiter “Ming” was delightful, funny, attentive, and still highly professional. Ask for him if you are ever there.)

Some hotel guests who wandered in seemed surprised to find themselves at a book fair. One gentleman stopped at my booth to admire a book. Said that he had just arrived and would look around. Unlike most “be backs” he did return to my booth to purchase the book ($85) and while there, had a phone call. I heard him explaining that he was at a book fair, obviously a bit stunned to discover himself there.
My booth during the show. That's me in the blue jacket on the aisle. The activity at the near end is at the postcard tables - I'll invent some kind of sign to go over it, since it's popular but kind of hidden there at the end.

Saturday morning we opened at 10 and ran until 5 pm, when everyone broke down quickly and hit the road. And the sun was shining. By Monday it was raining and has done so steadily since with temperatures mid-50s to mid-60s, but who cares? It was a bright and shiny show with reasonably good attendance. There was also good walk-in from hotel guests. I did about 2/3 of my normal “take” at the show, but given the current economy and the change of venue, it was not unexpected and still represented a reasonable profit, and some new customers to follow up with. Of course I spent more than I took in, but that will flip into greater profit.

There are no words to express my admiration for the volunteers who produce and run this show. The enthusiasm and thought going into it are incredible, and the results are always pleasing.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On preventing mold in Berries

This tip is circulating around the Internet. It often includes a nice photo, but since they seem to be copyright protected so I won't post them. But having had particularly bad luck with keeping berries this year so far, I wanted to pass this along (slightly modified from the original):

Berries are delicate. Raspberries in particular seem to mold before you get them home from the market. There's nothing more tragic than paying $4 for a pint of local raspberries, only to look in the fridge the next day and find fuzzy mold growing on their insides.

Wash them with vinegar.
When you get the berries home, prepare a mixture of one part vinegar (white or apple cider probably work best) and ten parts water. Dump the berries into the mixture and swirl around. Drain, rinse if you want and pop them into the fridge. The vinegar kills mold spores and bacteria on the surface of the fruit, and voila! Raspberries will last a week or more, strawberries can last up to two weeks without mold.

I haven't tried this yet (waiting for the price of raspberries to come down in fact) but it seems very logical. Vinegar's acidity does kill or diminsh the effects of mold. Apple cider vinegar in particular has many beneficial uses, from a good spring tonic to relief of arthritis. D.C. JARVIS M.D. has written several books describing these benefits. The one on Folk Medicine I found particularly useful over the past 45 years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Little Bit About Altered Books

Now and then I am confronted by someone who does not understand how I can participate in activity that involves “destroying books.” But yes – I do, and without qualms.
Georgia O'Keefe homage, for "Divine Women" altered book

I explain to them that hundreds of thousands of unwanted books are shredded or sent to the landfill every year. It’s hard to swallow, if you love books, but not every printed volume is precious. Book alterers try to “repurpose” these unwanted books into works of art. Others use old books to create shelves, accessories such as handbags, even furniture.

"Henge" foldout for Spiritual Places altered book

Some of us just enjoy creating art in them. That can involve carving niches, gluing things into them, painting pages, and whatever creative approaches one can devise.

Others created by carving. I can’t imagine the patience it takes for Su Blackwell to do what she does, but the results are fantastically beautiful. Su Blackwell's fabulous book sculptures.

 Brian Dettmer is no less amazing with his “revealed” image carving.
Brian Dettmer's intriguing book carvings.

And no, I don’t even try to emulate these artists. I just have fun with a group of local friends who participate in round robins. Each member starts a book on a theme, and then the books are passed from member to member so that each can created in each book. At the end the books wind up back with the person who started them, but now stuffed with the artwork of other members.

"I Killed the Bird" for Literary Cats altered book

Well, what are they good for? people then ask. What is any artwork good for? To enjoy – to look at again and again – to share with visitors (many of whom become so intrigued that they want to participate). Each book becomes a virtual art gallery. Since the members of each round robin tend to change from one session to another (each person has three to four weeks to complete a minimum number of pages, the length of time and number of pages depending on the number of participating members) there are always new approaches and styles. There are usually 8-12 participants, so one round robin per year is about the limit for most of us. Other groups participate by mail, or they exchange pages to be inserted in the books.

In respect of the rights of my fellow artists, I won’t post examples of their work, but herein I have offered a few of my own.

Copper embossed frog for "Frog" altered book

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Rocking-Horse in Literature: a Genre of Faint Accomplishments


With an interest in literature and the history of the book, I recently browsed one of The Book Buyer magazines that I purchase from a colleague. This magazine offered reviews of “American and Foreign” literature, author and illustrator profiles, reviews of new books, and even articles on such subjects as book plates.

One letter to the editor speaking to the issue of limp and thoughtless writing (and in particular of a new book of poetry by Charles Swinburne) is so pointed and amusing, and so deliciously phrased, that I gave up trying to edit it down and include it here in its entirety and without further comment.

The Rocking-Horse in Literature 
John Maybury

To the editor of The Book Buyer (Scribner’s Sons, pub.)

Every now and then the patient reader of general literature is confronted with a specially exasperating example of what, for want of a better name, may be called the rocking-horse style. It occurs with some frequency in the short stories which furnish forth certain magazines, and it leaves the reader divided between discontent because the stories are no better, and gratitude because they are no worse.

The suggestion given by prose written in this style is of those spirited wooden steeds whose forefeet pay the air, and whose hind legs seem about to spring lightly from the rocker. But they never leave it. The horse gallops magnificently up and down, but never gets ahead; his promise is great, and his performance nothing; his form is the hunter’s, and his execution practically that of a three-legged stool. The story has interest, of a kind, and is smartly told; but nobody seems to amount to very much, or to do anything worth talking about.

In poetry, the rocking-horse manner is favored by many writers who balance line with line, cadence with cadence, and sometimes even word with word, so that their verse rocks as evenly as the staple rocking-horse of commerce. The result is often musical as a harp hung upon a bough; but it would take a wood-god to interpret the meaning. There is more excuse for this sort of material composition than for the prose, because there is a pretty well-defined impression abroad that a poet must sing in his own words, given him by the immortals, and that it is our own fault if our ears are not fine enough to hear his melody.

Still, it takes abundant charity, suffering long, to believe that all the young men and women who write this sort of verse are moved thereto by any worthier motive than the belief that it will taste sweet in the public mouth greedy for novelty, and that thus it will pay their bills. Now, it is granted that to pay one’s bill is honest, but it is not specially poetic, in itself considered.

The greatest poet in England is one of those who occasionally rock so furiously as to invite the belief that they do it to kill time while thinking up something to say. Mr. Swinburne’s new volume of poems is dedicated to William Morris in thirteen stanzas of liquid light – or something. One of the thirteen is apt among ten thousand as an illustration. Hark to the music – and then find the hidden meaning, if you can:

“Not yesterday’s light nor to-morrow’s
      Gleams nearer or clearer than gleams,
Though joys be forgotten and sorrows
      Forgotten as changes of dreams,
The dawn of the days unforgotten
      That noon could eclipse not or slay,
Whose fruits were as children begotten
      Of dawn upon day.”

This is the noblest form of rocking-horse poetry, but fine as it is, and sweet its message, one comes crying as Pip’s benefactor used to say: “Might a mere warmint ask what” message?
John Maybury New York, June 10, 1894


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 20,000,000 year old Mystery Skull of Oregon

The 20,000,000 year old Mystery Skull of Oregon

The old historical museum

I remember visiting the Old Oregon Historical Museum at Gold Hill when I was a child. It was part of a group of roadside attractions that included the Oregon Vortex, Trees of Mystery, the Prehistoric Gardens (life-sized replicas of prehistoric animals), and if I recall correctly there was an Indian Village  and a petting zoo, and whatever other enterprise that could thrown up near the Vortex, which was – and still is – a major attraction.

Studies suggest that there might be something weird at the site of the vortex – some magnetic influence, perhaps. (Supposedly aircraft compasses go haywire when flying over the site.) A lot of it is hyped-up though, a case of “don’t believe everything you see.”

Paul Bunyan and Babe at Trees of Mystery
I haven’t been there for many, many years and apparently the museum has been refurbished to reflect the gold-mining era of the region. But when I was there it was a hodge-podge of weird and zany artifacts: two-headed sheep, various kinds of fetuses in jars, “mysterious objects” and so forth, along with legitimate pioneer and prospector memorabilia.

I don’t recall seeing the skull in this old postcard, and when I looked at it I was puzzled for a while. Then I realized that it is set on its “nose,” with the viewer looking at the palate with its “smiley” dentition depressions and the eye sockets from below – one of them deformed by pressure or crushing.
The caption reads: The Oregon Mystery Skull.
 Estimated to be more than 20,000,000 years old.
Old Oregon Historical Museum, Gold Hill, Oregon

Having solved that dilemma, the mystery remains – I haven’t identified what it is. The Oregon coastal area was, of course, once upon a time ocean floor so marine fossils are not uncommon, but then again the card does not identify where this object was found – and Oregon is rich in fossil remains. Educated guesses are welcome. One might estimate the size by the boards behind the skull, which appear to be approximately 8 inches wide. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Is It About Books?

What Is it About Books?

It was a dark and stormy night. Wind gusted wildly and lashed the house and roof with rain that sounded like pea gravel shot from a cannon. Small branches and limbs broke from the fir and oak trees around the house and littered the deck and yard with dark, half-seen lumps that could have been bodies or clumps of animated primeval sludge. OK, that’s going a bit far. But it was very dark, very stormy, very wet, and Gary was out of town.

I had planned to do some work in the studio while he was away, but the weather and atmosphere made me seek refuge. What better way to spend such an evening than in a room full of books, nestled into my recliner in a circle of light, cat on my lap and hot drink at my elbow?

Utterly evocative, but full of the pain
of lost libraries and disappeared books .
Even better, the book I was reading was Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night, with a cover illustration of a dark woods and a man in a chair reading a book by lamplight.

But the question in my mind is, what is it about books that is so comforting to some of us? I’m not talking so much about reading – one can read in many types of media. As Manguel reveals in another title - A History of Reading - the methods, entitlements, and habits of reading have changed greatly over the course of written history. The outcry about the “loss of books” to electronic media is misplaced. Electronic media provide reading: printed ink-on-paper books provide a mystique in their sheer physical presence that is not transmitted to cold plastic.

How to explain the feeling you get in a bookshop or a library - public or private - where you are surrounded by printed volumes, of there being something special there for you and you alone? Something waiting for you to find it, or to find you by serendipity. The feeling that makes you say “ahhhhh” when you step into the presence of a room filled with books.
A wonderful book, full of surprises. 

To be sure, there are those who don’t experience this; even those who appear to despise books. I have seen many decorating and interior design books, television shows, and even magazine articles where interior designers can’t bear the thought of colorful spines and dust jackets cluttering up their theme or color scheme. Some go to ridiculous lengths to disguise books, if they must remain in the room. They’ll cover them with plain white wrappers (or worse, paint them!), or place them on the shelves by color and size, or remove the dust jackets to display more uniformly plain spines, or – worst of all – display the books fore-edge out . Lacking the chance to do any of that, they’ll imprison the books behind doors.  It’s an aesthetic, but to booklovers a very wrong-headed and egotistical one.

The people who put themselves into the hands of these designers claim that they want a “warm and inviting” atmosphere. Laying claim to a room in which a gigantic flat-screen television becomes a focal point, they seem happy with the result. One (who loves books) can only wonder how this is possible.

To those of us for whom books are among life’s greatest pleasures, those many-hued dust jacket spines on our own shelves are like the faces of old familiar friends. One glance at such a book and one is reminded of previous pleasures, or taken back to a moment in time fondly remembered, or convinced that there is something more to be learned between those covers. The emotions of previous encounters enter one again, even without touching the book.

Bookshelves in a home speak volumes (literally) about the owner. Entering a home with books for the first time, one gravitates automatically to the shelves, scanning the spines for titles unfamiliar and familiar, deducing mutual or unexpected interests from them.  A home without books seems shallow and cold, lacking somehow in personality.

Those of us with books under our skin cannot imagine a time when electronic versions will suffice. They offer cold comfort at best. The image of sitting alone on a stormy night with the glow of an electronic screen for companionship simply does not convey the sense of safety and warmth as does the alternative picture I painted in my initial paragraphs. Will there be a time when it is enough? Not for me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How To Clean the Kitchen: A Soap Opera in Three Acts

ACT 1: The Slippery Slope
I stepped up to the kitchen sink one morning a couple of weeks ago and my foot came down on something gooey and slippery. I looked down and saw a white-ish gelatinous mass right at the hinge corner of the under-sink cupboard door.

Puzzled, I thought perhaps my spouse had been pouring something into the grease can and missed – but when I grabbed a dampened paper towel and started to wipe at it, it foamed.

“Did we spill some liquid dish soap down here?” I asked (diplomatically, I might add. Notice the “we.”)

“Not that I know of,” he said from the table where he was munching his breakfast bagel. “Why?”

I opened the door to throw the soggy paper towel into the trash, and spotted an equally gooey pile of the stuff next to the trash bin. Taking a step off the foot mat, I found myself sliding across the floor.

“We have a problem,” I reported. I took off my house shoe and limped to the bathroom, where I washed it in the sink and set it aside to dry.

We had just put a new gallon-sized bottle of liquid soap under the sink. It had sat on the garage pantry shelf for some time, and had not exhibited any leaks. However, Gary pulled it out and we put it on a tray, and sure enough it drooled some soap. We found a very small split in the bottom. Somehow it had been set on something that poked a hole in it.

I had been saying for weeks that we needed to clean out under the sink again – the liner was getting wrinkled and soiled and we hadn’t cleaned to the back of the cupboard for some time. So Gary took everything out – which included unscrewing and removing the slide-out trash bin and drawer, and it got a thorough cleaning.

Be careful what you wish for!

ACT 2: Melt-Down

I had also been saying that I needed to clean out the side-by-side freezer-refrigerator.  So last week we invited some friends about to depart the country for a few months for a bon-voyage supper. We started out with some wine and snacks, and then as I reached into the freezer for a final item in my supper preparation, I saw that the ice compartment was dripping. I poked a package of frozen veggies and discovered that it was getting soft. Uh-oh.
                                                      An image from an altered book.  

I didn’t want to upset the dinner party, so I maintained silence about the drips, but I found myself growing more and more anxious as the evening wore on. As soon as we had wished our guests bon voyage and shut the door, I said:

“We have a problem.”   

Investigation revealed that the freezer was not working and we rushed madly around to save the food. Of course I had been to the store that morning – the one where I can save a lot of money on certain things, but it’s at quite a distance from home so I go about every two months and stock up, putting a lot of things in the upright freezer out in the garage. So we crammed what we could in there. Fortunately, we had kept the fridge in the downstairs kitchen that was my mother’s before she passed away – it has become the “beer and backup” refrigerator so we filled the small top freezer in that.

We retired around midnight, hoping that the refrigerator side was still working.

Morning light, and I checked the refrigerator. Nope, the chill was departing from the fridge side, too. I stuck my head into the bedroom where Gary was still snoozing, and said:

“We have a problem.”

There was another rush to remove the beer and sodas from the downstairs fridge and load it with stuff from the kitchen. (Needless to say, I pitched things from both the freezer and the fridge as we unloaded our malfunctioning unit. Nothing had yet grown legs, but some of it was iffy.)

Gary made a call to Sears for a repairman, and obtained an appointment made for the following day. I had already been online checking out new refrigerators, and after some discussion we agreed that we should go check some out “just in case” we had to replace ours.

In fact, we found one that we liked on sale – a French-door bottom freezer unit that looked much more accommodating than the current one. After a good deal of discussion over lunch, reciting our previous appliance repair experiences in terms of both money and time, we decided to just buy the new one before the sale was over (the following day in fact) and let them haul away the dying monument to arctic failure.  

So OK – it was an expensive way to clean out the fridge. Be careful what you wish for.


I have been saying that I need to clean out the kitchen pantry. Nothing has happened yet, but I have a feeling I should get to it before it experiences spontaneous combustion or before something in there takes on a life of its own. Meanwhile, I’m holding my tongue, careful for what I wish for. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Soulless Shoes

One of Life’s Little Moments (that we’d like to forget)       
With minor illustrations in Trade Cards   

Some women buy shoes right and left. They need huge walk-in closets to store their footware. This always amazes me – my array of shoes fits neatly on a small rack in the bottom corner of my closet. It’s not that I don’t like shoes, or need shoes – it’s just that I have never accepted the cost of good shoes. There are so many other things that one could spend that money on, like books. I have never hesitated over the cost of a book if I had the money for it. Between the need to find a pair of   shoes that are comfortable, attractive, and suitable support for a bad back, the cost just makes my head reel and my pocket book seal itself shut.

I have been saying that I need a new pair of casual dress shoes – my current pair is falling apart. We were headed downtown to visit some favorite art galleries that were open one evening so I put on some “go to town” clothes. In Eugene, Oregon, that translates to “good jeans” and a blouse instead of a tee-shirt. Unless it’s a very nice tee shirt.) Noting the condition of my decrepit shoes, I dug out some older flats that looked as though they still had some good wear in them, slipped them on, and headed down the hall to get my coat.

The shoes made a funny swunchy  on the hall floor. It wasn’t the usual squeak of rubber against wood. Squnch! Squnch! It was not like anything I had heard before, but since we had torn up the carpet and laid down new solid flooring recently, I figured it was normal for that kind of contact.

 As we walked around town, though, I noticed that the sole of my shoe seemed a bit loose, but I figured that it would last at least for the rest of the evening.

We stopped in at a favorite gallery, where I became absorbed in a display and I didn’t pay too much attention when the owner dove into the back room and dashed back out with a dustpan and whisk broom and brushed furiously at something on the floor. I figured that someone had probably dropped a cracker and stepped on it. But then she came along behind me and did it again….and then again, muttering, “What is this stuff? Mud or something?”

At which point I checked the bottoms of my shoes, only to discover that they were disintegrating. Apparently they were a composite that was decomposing (which reminds me of the joke about Mozart’s tomb, but you know that one) in big chunks and smaller crumbs. I apologized fervently, removed my shoes, and limped to the door.

I’d show you a picture but I threw them away the minute we got home. I still haven’t bought a new pair although I have looked around a bit. But I’m going to have to wait for the sticker shock to wear off.  Meanwhile, I wonder if I can dress up my Crocs to pass for evening wear?